Electronic medical records have been widely touted as a way to maximize efficiency in the American health care system. Indeed, the push to abandon paper records is so strong that the federal government is spending $27 billion over the next 10 years to induce hospitals and doctors' offices to purchase electronic record-keeping systems.
However, concerns are emerging that this transition may not be in patients' best interests. Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyers and patient advocates are warning Americans that electronic medical records could subject them to increased risk of medical error.
Hospital errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people every year. Electronic medical records were initially sold as a way to reduce this number - for example, they can automatically notify a doctor who attempts to prescribe a drug a patient is allergic to and can warn of potential dangerous interactions between medicines.
Unfortunately, little evidence exists to suggest that electronic medical records have lead to increased safety across the American medical system. To the contrary, the Institute of Medicine recently published a report warning that electronic medical records systems add a layer of complexity to an already convoluted health care delivery system.
Technical glitches, software incompatibility and user error can lead medical professionals to overlook signs of a fatal illness and make medication errors. Problems with electronic medical records can also cause delays in needed treatment.
How Can Patients Protect Themselves?
The Department of Health and Human Services is developing a safety and surveillance plan to monitor issues with electronic medical records. However, this will take at least a year. Even then, the system is not expected to be without risk of error.
Good communication is the key to patient safety. Patients shouldn't take it for granted that their doctor knows everything about their health history. They should be sure to tell their doctor about all the medicines they are taking and all the symptoms they are experiencing. Patients should not be shy about asking questions to ensure they fully understand their medical treatment.
Most importantly, if something doesn't seem right, speak up. Many times, a patient will recognize an error that a doctor won't.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by a medical error, you may have legal recourse. Contact an experienced Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyer who can advise you of your options.
Source: Insurance Journal, "Electronic Medical Records Not Without Risks to Patient Safety: Report," 10 November 2011